Studying abroad in Florence, Italy was one of the most influential times in my life. I was engaged and planning a wedding, moving out of the “college” phase and into a newlywed one. More importantly,?I was also doing some soul searching as it was the first time I had been in a brand new place where I literally knew only two people. I was anxious to prove to myself that I was independent, truly independent, and that I could “survive” away from the conveniences of the US and all the people I knew.
Studying abroad is a time when you learn SO much about yourself. It might be little things like you don’t like walking home at night alone or that you don’t like Diet Coke in a foreign country (I know nothing about that), but some things are more profound and will impact you for years to come.
I teamed up with my sweet friend Gina from Gina Alyse to share with you 10 things that we learned about ourselves. Looking back on the things I learned really show how much I grew while I was studying abroad during those four months.
During the spring of 2012, I studied abroad in Florence and was able to travel through Italy, France, Spain and Ireland. Here are some things I learned about myself during that time.
I’m independent but don’t like being alone
This was a pretty big one. In college, I was so used to always having people around me. I would go to Target with friends when we both needed to shop or walk to class with someone. I rarely was truly alone. In Italy, it was almost the exact opposite. I had my roommates who I sometimes walked to class with but more often than not, I was walking through the city alone, grocery shopping alone and sometimes traveling alone. It was nerve-wracking at times but it helped me learn to be aware of my surroundings and be content by myself. I still prefer to run errands with someone else though 🙂
I can learn to love almost any food
Growing up, I was a suuuuuper picky eater. I’m talking chicken tenders and fries every day of high school because it’s all I liked. So imagine my surprise when I started trying new foods and?actually liked them. I think part of it was being in a new culture and wanting to fully embrace it but it was also the availability of fresh and organic produce. Since studying abroad I’ve learned I should always try something at least a few times before knocking it. Also if you learn to love new foods while abroad, you will gain 10 pounds and have to run your butt off to lose it for your wedding. Or maybe that was just me.
I am happiest with a camera in my hand and an adventurous heart
During the times I was wandering the city by myself, I felt most comfortable with my camera in hand. I learned to capture the things you wouldn’t normally see when you’re just visiting for a few days. Even though I was only in Italy for four months, it was certainly more than a vacation and there were lots of things that made me feel like I truly lived there rather than feeling like a tourist.
Foreign shops are fun to explore, but IKEA will always be my comfort zone
There was an IKEA that was about an hour away from us by bus. Within the first month I think we went there four times. Even though the IKEA there was very different from ours in the States, the comfort of knowing you could buy things like picture frames, throw blankets or even new pillows was unbeatable. Granted, I was on a strict budget so I didn’t buy many luxury items but having them around the apartment made it feel like home.
I don’t need a church building
Before you panic and think I’m writing off church, let me explain. One of the things I worried about most was walking out of my community at school of Bible studies, small groups and regular church services. I was worried of falling out of my relationship with Jesus without having that structure. Instead, I had to learn to provide my own structure. There weren’t many contemporary churches in Florence and we weren’t about to sit through?mass in Italian. So, there was no church going. But I’m also thankful for that because it taught me that my relationship with Jesus has nothing to do with a physical church. Going to church is hugely important and if you can’t attend regularly for whatever reason, you definitely need to be active?in a community of believers and fellowship, but being away from church for four months taught me that I don’t need a church building to have a relationship with Jesus and that being in church doesn’t necessarily mean I have one, either. Above all, I think that was the best lesson I could have learned.
Now here is Gina with her 5 things!
Last Spring, I studied abroad in Sevilla, Spain for four months, where I had the opportunity to sharpen my Spanish, take communications classes, disconnect from technology and travel to places like Rome, Istanbul, Morocco, and Portugal. Travel changes us, and during my semester abroad, I felt the most uncomfortable but the most like myself at the same time. What did I learn about myself on this journey? A couple small and big things:
I really like flowers
Flowers are important symbols for Sevilla?s famous spring festival, La Feria de Abril, and southern Spain is known for its sunshine and beautiful nature. But living in the city didn?t have as much nature as I?m used to, so I found myself always going to parks with more flowers or down by the river to relax. This made me realize how much being connected to nature and my surroundings is so important to me.
I love asking questions and telling stories
One of my favorite parts of my study abroad experience was a magazine production class, where I wrote a feature on a new street market in my neighborhood. Going up to people I never met and asking them questions in Spanish was so thrilling, and the whole process of writing the article was so rewarding. Meeting people, talking about their art and getting perspectives of the city made Sevilla more like a home.
Travel blogging is my favorite
Along the same lines, I discovered my passion for documenting life, especially in the form of travel blogging. I loved writing organically about my study abroad experiences and keeping a blog, that was not only a journal, but also a record of the places I experienced, their history and the people I met. While I love other forms of writing, I love how travel writing relies on adventure, exploring oneself and going deeper in the world around us.
I go through phases of favorite things for long periods of time
For example, in Spain, I listened to the same 120-song playlist for four months, without craving something different. I also bought a denim jacket, and since then, I?ve been loving wearing denim jackets all the time! Since I was living with less (less clothing and less exposure to American culture), I was able to cherish the things I loved for longer periods of time. Now, when I find music, art, clothing or food I like, I enjoy it for months at a time, rather than switch it up or try a new trend.
I really enjoy spending time in coffee shops (and even drinking coffee!)
I had my first cup of coffee in Spain my second day in the city. Throughout the semester, I loved finding interesting coffee shops in the city, but the good thing is that all the caf?s were unique and interesting! From different kinds of art on the walls to different jams for my toast, the caf?s provided a space for me to study and get a caffeine fix, but also see the culture of the people around me. Now, I love finding quirky coffee shops around my college town and when traveling!
In addition to these things, studying abroad opened my eyes to new ways of living, not just abroad, but also back in the U.S. as well. I discovered new passions, a love for authentic communities and diversity as well as ways to keep to record and reflect on life.
You can see more about Gina’s travels on her study abroad summary list!
I think it’s so fascinating that Gina and I both learned some pretty cool things about ourselves while abroad. I think when you’re stripped of a lot of the comforts that you’re used to, it really shows you a new side to yourself. Studying abroad has definitely had a lasting affect on me. For more posts about my experiences abroad, check out my Florence Recap and 5 Reasons to Study Abroad in College.